Patrick Henry School

The Patrick Henry girls basketball team huddle during the Region 1D girls championship game last February against Honaker at UVa-Wise. 

EMORY, Va. — Breanna Yarber was in elementary school when she noticed an important person watching her play basketball.

Yarber is now one of the top basketball talents in far Southwest Virginia as junior at Patrick Henry, and that important observer is her head coach.

Meet Tommy Thomas.

“Coach Thomas came to see me play in the fourth grade, and he said that I had potential,” Yarber said. “Two years later, he let me practice with the varsity team in the summer. It means a lot to have someone believe in you like that.”

Fans around the Hogoheegee District are also true believers in the 6-foot-1 Yarber. On Friday, she collected 27 points and 10 rebounds as the Rebels downed the Holston Cavaliers 55-38 in a Hogoheegee District game.

PH returned every starter from a 24-4 team that finished second in the Region ID tournament and advanced to the VHSL Class 1 state playoffs. Yarber, the two-time district player of the year, has averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds this season as the Rebels (17-2, 8-0) cruised to the Hogoheegee regular season title.

So just how good is Yarber?

“Very good,” Thomas said.

The relationship between Yarber and Thomas runs deep. Thomas played basketball with Yarber’s father, Baron, at Holston High School.

“Baron was the leader on our team,” Thomas said. “I watched as Breanna developed her skills, and then I put together local AAU tournaments. Breanna and most of our current varsity players competed in those tournaments, and they’ve been playing together ever since.”

Thomas said there is no secret to the success of his team.

“I really wish that people could see what these girls looked like on the court as seventh graders compared to now,” Thomas said. “This is one of the hardest-working groups you will ever see. “

Work ethic has never been an issue with Yarber.

“I love the game,” Yarber said. “It’s really enjoy fun to run the floor and get points in transition. I was in a slump for a little while, but I’ve been able to overcome that with the help of my teammates.

It was emotional night for Thomas and his team. After the game, three participants in the school’s winter homecoming ceremony presented Thomas with over $5,000 to help defray the costs associated with his battle against an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Every fan in the gym gave Thomas a standing ovation as the ceremony concluded.

“That really hit me hard,” Yarber said. “We are all playing and praying for Coach Thomas. He’s like a second dad to me.”

Thomas returned home Thursday night at 9:30 after undergoing another chemotherapy treatment at Duke Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. Before his surgery, Thomas said that three neurosurgeons told him that could not beat his cancer.

As for the game, the Cavaliers opened a 9-4 lead at the 3:58 mark of the first quarter. Thomas called for a timeout moments later, and the Rebels responded in style.

With Yarber running the floor, senior guard Kaycee Deskins (10 points, five assists) delivering smart passes, and the Rebels playing lockdown defense, PH went into halftime with a 32-19 lead.

“Coach Thomas told us to focus on defense and get smarter on offense,” Yarber said.

PH is allowing just 33 points per game.

The other slice of drama came when Deskins scored her 1,000th point.

Senior guard Liyah French led the Cavalier with 27 points. French surpassed Stacy Wright-Long on Jan. 17 become Holston’s all-time leading female scorer.

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